Feeling some angst? Writing a poem might help.
Angsty adolescents have written poetry for centuries. It’s a turbulent time of life when we’re wrestling with identity, independence, and desire. No wonder so many young people turn to poetry to try to sort out their feelings and make sense of their place in the world.
Adolescence is a liminal state, on the threshold between childhood and adulthood. This is the perfect place for creativity. If you’re no longer an adolescent, try mining your memories of that time in your life. What was important to you? What barriers did you face? What did you long for. You might find yourself writing a poem.
Old people like me can sometimes be dismissive of kids’ creative efforts. It’s good for us to remember that some of the classic poems about adolescence were written by poets who were quite young themselves. Scroll down for some links.
If you’re a young poet now (either in age or in your writing career), here’s some advice: Keep everything you write. Don’t delete or discard anything. Some of it will probably embarrass you if you look back on it from a more mature perspective, but everything you write is precious.
When you are first discovering poetry, your approach to it is fresh. It can be like the thrill of the first time skydiving or the thrill of reading a book that speaks to your life. Either way, honor that freshness by hanging on to what you’ve written. There might even be a future payoff — your prior work is also a potential goldmine for later writing projects.
Like many angsty teens, when I started writing, it was to understand my mixed-up thoughts about identity, independence, and desire. What’s interesting to me now, though, as an older person, is the different ways we look back at adolescence.
Some poets, like Claude McKay, have looked back on adolescence as a time of innocence. For Rita Dove, in “Adolescence II,” it seems like a time of magical but frightening transformation. For Adrienne Su, adolescence takes on a broader meaning.
For the following poem on adolescence, originally published in my collection Back East, I considered a memory of one pure afternoon.
That volcanic August, the asphalt steamed
behind their older cousin’s El Camino,
a car so hot no one questioned why
it sported a pick-up bed, or why it took
them to skinny-dip at the long- abandoned quarry.
On the path through the woods, they foraged for sex without
knowing it, plucking shapely fungi
and curling moss. They came to the water before
it was too late. Years before one lost
an arm to the road and another lost his life
to it, the boys jumped feet first from the cliff,
cupping hands in prayer around their genitalia.
The flower-power girls dove in before
rapes, abortions, cancers, free-fall naked
without a single consequence, their hands
the points of spades cleaving the mirror.
Treading water, they traded stories of boys
who’d broken their necks and girls who’d disappeared.
The well of rainfall, fluent in the tongue
of silk, praised their barest skin and cooled them.